We had mixed reactions from members in Orlando during the recent Annual Fall Conference when HARDI officially announced plans for the association's first-ever Congressional Fly-In. The Fly-In will be this spring (April 30-May 1) in conjunction with the Mid-Year Business Conference (May 1-3) in Washington, DC. Many members were excited and enthusiastic for the opportunity to raise Washington's awareness of HARDI and the interests of HVACR distributors by meeting in person with federal legislative and regulatory staff and officials. Others, given the recent wave of regulatory and legislative attention that is targeting our industry, agreed with the need, intent and timing of the inaugural event, but were openly nervous and apprehensive about what would be their first “lobbying” venture.
To help ease some anxieties, here are seven things every member should know about the Fly-In:
We will schedule all congressional meetings for you.
When you register for the Fly-In, HARDI will use the ZIP code of your headquarters and all branch locations in our database to identify your congressmen and senators. We will build schedules based on the states and districts represented by the registered members. You will receive a schedule for the day that you can review and amend based on your interests, any potential relationships you may already have with your elected representatives and your comfort level for private meetings. Staff or experienced members can attend meetings with you if you're uncomfortable meeting alone.
You will receive thorough issue and protocol education before hitting the Hill.
The afternoon of Wednesday, April 30, will be devoted to an orientation session and issue briefing. Participants will learn what to expect during a meeting with House or Senate staffs, how to get your key issues across and any other etiquette points that you need to know. We will address and distribute talking points related to current issues, HARDI's positions and key discussion points.
In addition to the HARDI staff, we will also identify members who have participated in Fly-Ins or other lobbying activities before who are willing to serve as coaches or mentors for first-timers.
Most likely, you will be meeting with legislative staff, not the congressman or senator.
While we are going to do our best to get an audience with congressmen and senators, it will largely depend on the makeup of those registered. The legislative staffs conduct 90 percent of Hill meetings since legislators spend most of their days in hearings, committee meetings and caucuses. Meetings with staff are just as valuable, since it is staff that advises/educates legislators on specific issues and often helps set legislative agendas. If members have any special connection with a legislator, they should let HARDI know because such relationships can go a long way.
You will be as busy as you want to be during the Fly-In.
HARDI's goal for the Fly-In is to raise the awareness of legislators, their staff and pertinent federal agencies such as the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency. You will have the option of meeting with any legislator who represents any state or district in which your company operates. You may also have the opportunity to meet with key House and Senate committee staff since they, too, do much to shape policy. DOE and EPA staff are also key relationships to advance.
HARDI is partnering with ACCA to provide added benefit to HARDI members.
HARDI has invited ACCA members to participate in our Fly-In event since the two associations have worked closely during the last year on legislative and regulatory issues. Hill meetings with distributors and their customers will be powerful tools for influencing policy while providing a great customer incentive program for those distributors who might consider organizing their contractors.
Relationships with legislators you didn't support can be most important.
Maybe you didn't vote for your congressman or senator. Maybe you even campaigned against them. It is still essential that you make every effort to educate them about your business and your industry. Congressional seats are especially friendly toward incumbents, so you may have that representative for a long time. You may not always agree, but it is your responsibility to provide your legislators with as much knowledge as possible when making their policy decisions. Listening to a community leader, employer, taxpayer and potential voter is not a policy or partisan issue but rather one of political survival for all legislators.
You need to be there because no one else knows your business better.
After all of the orientation, issue-briefing and protocol-training, the entire Fly-In is still only about you and your business. Right now, Washington knows very little about the HVACR industry and even less about wholesale distribution. Those on the Hill have much more to learn from you than vice versa, and, don't forget, the legislators work for you. HARDI will handle the details; you just focus on your business.
Talbot Gee is vice president of HARDI. Contact him at 614/488-1835 or tgee@HARDInet.org.